Covid-19 and the Miracle on the last night of Chanukkah in Rimouski..

The oxygen levels were feeling depleted and Ozzie Appleby was frustrated and tired, but he knew he had to finish his route. He had been selected as a Member of Canada’s Winter Olympic team as a cross country skier. At twenty one he was in peak condition but Covid-19 had played havoc with his regular training program. He had spent most of his time in isolation and he reported via Zoom to his coaches. He gave them nutritional information, workout schedules, and times and distances. He had been given an electronic device that measured all kinds of different elements that happened in outdoor conditions and how he performed facing those different types of challenges. It was not ideal as the Coaches would have liked to have been there to check out mechanics and find ways to shave seconds off his times, but it just wasn’t feasible. The Winter Olympics were still eleven months away, but Ozzie knew time went fast, and he still had competitions coming up in Europe if they weren’t canceled because of Covid-19.

Ozzie returned to his cabin, took a shower and looked at the law books on his dining room table. He had a few hours of studying in front of him. His life had become training the body in the morning and the brain in the afternoon. He was in his last year of Law School and he was grateful for online lectures. The fact he was in Rimouski, Quebec, and his Law School was in Toronto, made the distance seem non-existent thanks to online lectures.

Being in a remote location was sometimes lonely but Ozzie had become friends with some of the people from Rimouski and they had been warm and gracious. Covid-19 was a problem everywhere and it had even hit this gorgeous destination. As a result, he spent most of his time by himself.

Ozzie’s parents were always checking in on him, and he was constantly texting and talking with his Brother and Sister. It gave him a sense of normalcy. The other thing that gave Ozzie a feeling of comfort was to follow traditions. He was Jewish and he spent two hours every Saturday morning praying, and he kept a vegetarian diet so he didn’t have to worry about eating non-kosher food. His Coaches had been on him about needing more protein which meant meat, but Ozzie wouldn’t have it. If it wasn’t kosher he wasn’t going to eat it.

The biggest issue about training alone was the fear that if he was injured or some kind of strange situation happened while he was in the middle of nowhere (he had encountered one bear and a pack of Coyotes, but they didn’t seem to notice him) there would be nobody to help. He always carried a flare gun and his phone, but by the time someone could get to his location (explaining where he was exactly would have been another problem) would have resulted in him being an appetizer.

Ozzie made himself a bowl of soup and hit the books. When it got dark where he was living it got pitch black. There were no lights around. His cabin was the only one for miles.

Over the last seven days Ozzie had been lighting his Menorah and he was amazed at how the light of the candles seemed brighter than he could ever remember. Maybe it was the stark setting but the candles gave off a special glow.

After studying Torts, Ozzie put his candles in the Menorah and much to his chagrin there were three empty spots. He had miscalculated the number of candles he had needed. He looked at his watch and it read one thirty. That would give him an hour and a half to find three candles and get back home before darkness descended.

He got dressed, jumped into his trusty Land Rover, and headed to town. He could go to Walmart Rimouski, Maxi, Metro Plus Rimouski, or Super C, one of the stores would have candles. He didn’t care about the size of the candles he could make them work in his Menorah. He needed the candles so he could have a proper end to the holiday of Chanukah otherwise known as the Festival of Lights.

Ozzie’s closest neighbour was about three miles away. He had a magnificent Christmas tree in front of his home. It looked beautiful and at night Ozzie was sure it would be something to see.

The snow was falling lightly which was nothing special for Rimouski. It was one of the things he loved about the place, it was like a winter wonderland. In the summer you could walk along the St. Lawrence and in the winter you could cross country ski for hours which was his thing.

Once he got into town, Ozzie flew into the different supermarkets and Walmart, and was relieved when he finally found one pack of tapered candles. They weren’t perfect but they would do. There was enough of them that he could whittle them down to fit the candle holder on the menorah. He was just paying when he heard a young woman behind him on her phone. ‘’I love Rimouski, it is a beautiful place and the people are friendly. I’m glad my French is good, but the problem is I can’t find a Menorah or candles. I know it’s the last night and I’ll survive, but I’ve never missed lighting the Menorah in my life. It’s going to be weird. Anyway, I’m moving into my new place tomorrow and I’m excited about that. When Dad comes up he’ll have to put up my Mezuzahs on the door. Love you, speak to you soon.’’

Ozzie turned his head to see who was talking. Even though she was wearing a mask, Ozzie knew she was very attractive. She had long blonde hair and vibrant eyes. ‘’Uh, Hi, My name’s Ozzie Appleby and I have a Menorah and Candles. I’m sorry but I heard you talking and I don’t know if a lot of other people would have keyed in on the word Mezuzah, but I would be pleased to help you put them up.’’ There was a look of astonishment on the woman’s face.

‘’You’re a member of the Tribe?’’ Ozzie nodded, ‘’Yup, I don’t think there’s a lot of us in Rimouski, in fact you’re the first person I’ve met with the same background. I know this sounds forward and you don’t know me from Adam, but would you like to light my Menorah with me tonight? I just bought these candles cause I ran out and I haven’t really loved lighting every night by myself.’’ She was still looking like she was in a state of shock ‘’Okay this is a lot to compute, let’s pay for our stuff and talk.’’

Ozzie paid for the candles and waited as his new friends paid for some groceries and a couple of other items. ‘’How do I know you can be trusted. Have you been quarantining, cause I don’t want Covid.’’ Ozzie assured tht he was the poster boy for home isolation. He thought about it for a second and placed a quick facetime call to his parents who vouched for him, he then did the same with his Brother and Sister. By the time he was finished the woman he had invited to his home, Michelle was laughing. ‘’I kinda knew you were okay immediately, but your references are really good. I am going to do something crazy, I’m going with you. Let’s light the lights.’’

They first parked Michelle’s car at her new condo and then headed off for Ozzie’s place in the country. As Ozzie headed North, Michelle started talking. ‘’I’ve accepted a job as a Vice President for Telus Communications. We have a huge presence here and it is considered a stepping stone for advancement. It is a one-year posting. So, I’m here for the next twelve months. It should be fun and interesting.’’ The snow was starting to fall a little faster and harder. ‘’I start my new job on January fifth, so I’ve still got a few days to get acclimatized to everything. What’s your deal?’’

Ozzie explained about the Olympics and Law School and Michelle seemed impressed. She looked out the window before she responded ‘’I love skiing, I always go downhill but cross country could be fun. Ozzie nodded, ‘’Maybe we could go to Parc du Mont-Comi together. It’s thirty miles east of here. They have cross country and downhill.’’ Michelle looked over at him ‘’Wow, already planning our second date.’’ Ozzie was speechless, he hadn’t considered that this was their first date.

When they arrived at the Cabin, Ozzie apologized for the papers all over the place, and the work out equipment that was in the middle of the living space. ‘’I love it, this place is so comfy. I can’t believe we met, it has to be Beshert, you know fate.’’

Ozzie made hot chocolate and they sat and talked. Michelle explained that she had received her Masters Business Administration degree from the Ivy Business School and had been recruited to join Telus. She would be celebrating her twenty-third birthday in March.

The snow was thicker and heavier than it had been all day. It was getting dark out and it was finally time to light the Menorah. Ozzie worked on the candles to make sure they fit and much to both his and Michelle’s delight they worked. They said the blessings and sang Ma O Tzur. It was strange because for two strangers they felt an immediate intimacy. Ozzie also loved Michelle’s very soothing voice.

It was decided because of the inclement weather that Michelle would stay over. Ozzie provided a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. Michelle helped make a pasta dinner and they drank a couple of glasses of wine. Before going to bed in the guest room, Michelle called her parents and showed them the beautiful Menorah and introduced Ozzie. It was the start of an incredible and forever relationship that would lead to marriage and family.

A few months later as Ozzie was preparing for an Olympic qualifying race in Lausanne, Switzerland he kept flashing back to everything that had happened in his life. The one thing he kept thinking about was Michelle and how much he missed her. It was amazing the Chanukah Miracle was supposed to be about the Maccabees and the oil for the Menorah but for him it was about finding candles and true love. Now it was time for him to go win the race for those who believed in and supported him. He might not have been a Maccabee but he was an Appleby and he wasn’t going to let anybody down, he was still infused with the spirit of Chanukah.

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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